Is Moving to Hawaii Right for You?
Which Island Should You Choose?
Moving or thinking of making a move to Hawaii? Relocating to Hawaii is a major life decision and is a dream shared by countless people around the globe. But given Hawaii's geographic isolation, moving to the Hawaiian Islands comes with several challenges and thus it takes careful preparation and a lot of detailed planning to avoid any unnecessary problems. Hopefully, this article will help you better prepare for moving to the beautiful islands of Hawaii.
Relocating to Hawaii
The very first thing you’ll have to do when moving is to decide which of the major islands you want to live on. We say “major” because we expect most visitors will want to move to one of the main islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. We’re not going to cover Molokai or Lanai in this article since we don’t go into detail about either on this site – both are not what we’d consider major islands to make the move to anyway. But we digress.
Selecting the right island is important – for a lot of reasons. For starters, selecting an island involves a lot more than picking a neighborhood; it entails picking an entire experience and lifestyle. Comparing life on Oahu to life on Kauai is like comparing apples and oranges.
So which island is for you? Ultimately, only you can make that decision, but we intend to help get you started with a few tips about each island later in this article. To begin, let’s go over the basics.
Planning a Move to Hawaii
The basics to get you started...
Before you make the move, be sure to visit the island and area you want to move to – find the location and neighborhood, and get a feel for the community. Try to get a good idea of what the climate and weather are like for that area, and be sure to visit at night to get a glimpse of what it’s like after dark. Overall, you want to have a solid picture of the area you'll call home. The diverse geography of each island greatly affects the climate and weather – and this should be important for you to consider in your search. As an example, if you don’t like the rain or the wind, then living on the windward (northeast) sides of the islands is not your best choice.
You'll also want to talk to other people living on the island to help determine the best location for you. Forming meaningful, authentic relationships in Hawaii, in our opinion, is everything. The sooner you can start making connections and forming friends, the better.
OK, first reality check. Living in Hawaii isn’t cheap, and the pay-- despite what you may hear-- is actually below the mainland average. Money is a huge factor in living in Hawaii, and it’s the foremost reason that most people decide to move back to the mainland. Malihini (newcomers) to the islands are generally not taken very seriously in their first year because a lot of them move back to the mainland. This may affect getting a job, getting a good price on an apartment, and many other things. This isn’t meant to discourage you, but to keep things realistic when you’re making your plans to move to the state.
If you are fortunate enough to work remotely and make a decent living doing so, be sure to keep in mind that your salary on the mainland may not allow you to maintain your lifestyle in the Islands. Be prepared to make some major adjustments in your budget.
One major-- and often overlooked-- factor is the cost of food. Since the vast majority of food is imported, it costs much more than it would on the mainland. Larger supermarkets like Wal-Mart and Costco do tend to have more "reasonable" prices, however. Dining out is likely an area you’ll have to cut out for the most part, as the prices will eat up your budget in a hurry.
Renting vs. Buying
Both options have their benefits. If you are in a position to purchase a home in Hawaii and are confident that you are ready to make the move, you will immediately step into the stability and security of homeownership. Quality rentals can be hard to find and often do not offer the long-term security and flexibility of owning your home. On the other hand, renting for the initial time period you plan to move here allows you to get a feel for the islands and make sure this is the place that you truly want to call home. Renting also allows you time to thoroughly research neighborhoods and visit many different properties for sale as you make your transition to home ownership. Renting is quite common in the islands (about 45% of residents rent), and you won’t be alone in looking for a good deal.
Rental prices vary from island to island and we’ve included an estimate of each island's costs below in each island’s descriptive section. Generally speaking, expect to spend a lot more in Hawaii than you would on the mainland. If you’re from a major urban city on the mainland, the price might not give you sticker shock compared to what you’re paying now, but for most mainlanders, the price is a bit surprising. To make our point, 600 square feet in Hawaii goes for an average of $1000 a month. If you’re considering two bedrooms in an apartment or a small house, expect another $500-$1000 (or more) on top of that. Nicer condominiums and larger apartments easily go for close to $3000 a month. These prices are just general prices and vary from island to island and, of course, with the economy. There are deals to be found – we’ve found smaller places to rent for only $1200 a month, but we’ve also had quotes upwards of $2800 for house rental prices – and we weren’t looking for anything fancy either.
The costs of living in Hawaii often mean that renters work more than one job to make ends meet. This is another reality check moment. This may not sound like a big deal but think long term. Are you prepared to work more than one job for months or years to make ends meet? Hawaii isn’t all sun and fun when you live here – and this reality check is something you strongly need to be aware of. Living here isn’t cheap and housing is just the start. Groceries, insurances, health costs, etc. are also a lot higher here than most places on the mainland. In Hawaii, almost 70% of the residents cannot afford a typical two-bedroom apartment; seriously consider this fact before you move.
If you’re wondering when to make the move, we suggest doing so between March and May or from August through October as fewest tourists are on the island(s) at these times and the weather is ideal for moving. Additionally, flights, rental rates, and accommodations are more affordable.
Other Factors to Consider
Be sure to do your research on crime in the various areas of the island you choose. Also, be very aware of the condition of the education system in Hawaii. Some are going to frown upon our opinion here because it’s not exactly politically correct, but if you have keiki (children) you’ll likely want to consider private schooling, in our opinion. This, of course, is costly. We also want to advise people about the pests that live here, particularly centipedes and other bugs. Expect them in Hawaii on a regular basis. To cover the other basics, we really feel the book, “So you Want to Live in Hawaii” by Toni Polancy is a good read. It provides infinitely greater detail about all the miscellaneous particulars we can’t go into detail about here.
What to Ship and What to Sell Back Home?
Our best advice when moving to Hawaii: Keep things as simple and minimalistic as possible. Sell what you can back home, and come with as few possessions as humanly possible. Furnished apartments are common here due to the fact many owners use them as rentals. To bring all of your furniture etc. is a waste of money in our opinion. In some cases, even parts of your wardrobe won’t be needed (depending on the island) – so only bring the clothes you’ll need for the island in question. Remember that if you can’t ship it to Hawaii in a box (UPS, FedEx, or USPS) then you’ll probably have to rent a pod or crate and have it shipped to the islands (which can take a while depending on your location). The only major item we often recommend people ship is their car. At around a $1000-$1500 per vehicle, you can easily ship your automobile here and save money. Since public transportation is practically non-existent outside of Oahu, you’ll definitely need a car in Hawaii.
If you’re bringing your pets then be forewarned the policies for importing pets are very strict here. Plan far in advance on this and be prepared to have a quarantine period for most pets if they are not completely up-to-date on their vaccinations and you haven't kept very meticulous vet records. i
Overview of Each Major Hawaiian Island
Oahu – The Gathering Place
Oahu is the most populated of all the major Hawaiian Islands. With nearly one million residents, it is home to Honolulu-- the state's capital-- as well as Waikiki and Pearl Harbor. Oahu is probably the most popular island to move to because of the job opportunities and salaries tend to be higher here. Oahu is Hawaiian through and through, but it also certainly has the most in common with the mainland – it’s busy, fast-paced, and modern. There are tall buildings, major highways, malls, and a lot of other things you’d find in any major mainland city.
The bulk of jobs here are tourism-related (retail especially), though there are a lot of government (including military) and civil (construction) jobs as well. Many people say Oahu is one of the most beautiful islands in the chain, and like all the major islands has a windward and leeward side. Do your research about the neighborhoods on the island and, as always, we highly recommending finding a local realtor who can help you with finding a place to rent or buy.
The average rent on the island of Oahu is about $1600-$1700 a month.
Maui – The Valley Isle
Maui is larger than Oahu and yet it only has about 1/10th of the people living here. Maui has a pretty busy pace overall and has grown up a lot in recent years in our opinion. But jobs and the economy here are not Oahu, and job searching can be frustrating at times on the island. Tourism-related jobs remain the most common occupation, followed by civil work-- like construction-- and agriculture (which remains fairly common on the island).
Maui has more diversity in geography than Oahu does, and you can live in a variety of different locals. Upcountry Maui is dramatically different than living along the Hana Highway for example – both culturally and climatologically speaking.
The average rent on Maui, despite the differences from Oahu, is nearly the same – about $1500 a month; plus wages are also lower here.
Kauai – The Garden Isle
Kauai, perhaps more than any other major island, has a small-town feel to it. Dramatically different than bustling Oahu and Maui, Kauai is home to only around 70,000 people.
Kauai, like Oahu and Maui, is economically fueled primarily by tourism and civil-related jobs. There are also some military/government jobs on the island due to the fact the military has a small presence in the Southwestern portion of the island.
The average rent on Kauai is about $1300-$1400 a month, but the wages here are much lower than Oahu or Maui. Kauai is unique in that most residents live fairly close to the coast, as the bulk of the interior of the island is highland swamp and impassible terrain
Hawaii – The Big Island or Orchid Isle
The Big Island has one major thing going for it - it’s BIG (when compared to the other islands). Its population is actually the second-highest in the state at nearly 200,000 residents, but when you consider how spread out everyone is, it feels a lot more like Kauai than Maui or Oahu.
Tourism is the main source of jobs here, followed by agriculture and civil-related jobs. The bulk of work (tourism wise) is located on the western side of the island along the busy Kona Coast. No island has the diversity in geography the Big Island has, so definitely do your research before selecting an area.
The average rent on Hawaii is around $1100 – which is a big reason a lot of folks who don’t choose Oahu do choose the Big Island. But naturally, jobs are harder to find here and traffic is surprisingly bad on the Kona side due to the fact that many people commute (starting at 3am-6am) from Hilo (on the eastern side) to work on the West Coast where the tourism jobs are located.
Moving to Hawaii - Final Thoughts
So that’s living here in a nutshell. We hope this article has provided you some valuable insight as to what it’s like to live in Hawaii. Just remember, "be prepared" should always be your motto when making a move here. Doing your homework and knowing as much as possible will pay off in the long run. Your move is an exciting and fun time, but it should also be one that’s done with caution and realistic expectations, or else you may be one of the hundreds who move back to the mainland each year. Hawaii is paradise for many reasons, but it’s also a difficult place to live for most because of the economy.
Aloha and the best of luck in planning your move to the beautiful islands of Hawaii.
Be sure to read our Moving to Hawaii Checklist article for even more moving to Hawaii tips.